Saturday, January 31, 2009

Something I Wrote (February)

"The Horror Film and the Horror of Film" (from Film Criticism)

Quote of the Day (2/1/09)

He watched the stars and imitated their courses and positions in the sand. Into the ocean of the air he gazed incessantly, its clouds, its illumination. He collected stones, flowers, beetles of every kind and arranged them in various patterns in front of him. To men and animals he gave attention, on the shores of the sea he sat and looked for shells. To his own heart and thoughts he listened intently. He did not know where his longing would lead him. When he had grown up he wandered about, viewed other countries, other seas, other atmospheres, stones that were strange to him, unknown plants, animals, men; descended to caves, saw how the earth was built up in shelves and many colored layers, and pressed clay into curious rock formations. Now he discovered familiar patterns everywhere, only weirdly mingled and combined, and in this way often the strangest objects fell into order in his mind. Soon he looked for analogies in all things, conjunctures, connections, till he could see no longer anything in isolation. All the perceptions of his senses crowded into great variegated images he heard, saw, touched, and thought at the same time. . . . Now stars were men to him, now men were stars, stones were animals, clouds were plants, he played with the powers and the phenomena, he knew just where and how to find this shape and the other, to make them appear; and thus he himself drew tones and passages from the strings.
--Novalis, The Disciples of Sais

Best of "BSG"

TWoP picks BSG's "best frakking moments."

"A Creative Cure for TV: Less is More"

I have been very interested for some time in the vast difference in length and duration of American and British television series. (See "Lost and Long-term Television Narrative.") A case in point: the UK run of Life on Mars--two seasons and a total of sixteen episodes--will be outdistanced by LoM (US) in one season.

But as an illuminating piece in Variety by Brian Lowry shows, the British model may be winning out.

"No End in Sight" and "Taxi to the Dark Side"

In the last three weeks i have finally had the opportunity to see two powerful Iraq War documentaries: Taxi to the Dark Side and No End in Sight.

Like most conscious Americans, I have been well aware for years how fucked up, from the get-go, everything was in Iraq, but these two films have made my hyper-aware of the monstrous evil of the American drift into torture and the breathtaking incompetence of our management of the war. And convinced me too that the Iraq War, like the idiot who launched it, was in fact the apotheosis of the Ugly American ethos.

"Green Acres" is the Place to Be

You know the story of the crazy man who was fishing in a bathtub. A doctor with ideas as to psychiatric treatment asked him "if they were biting," to which he received the harsh reply: "Of course not, you fool, since this is a bathtub." That story belongs to the baroque type. But in it can be grasped quite clearly to what a degree the absurd effect is linked to an excess of logic.
--Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

I indulged this morning and bought Seasons 1 and 2 of Green Acres (two seasons for under $20!). Created by Jay Sommers (1917-1985) for producer Paul Henning (1911-2005), the master of three successful "rural comedies" for CBS (Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Acres).

I have long thought of Acres as Theatre of the Absurd, an American sitcom Beckett or Ionesco. Remember, for example, the County Agent, Hank Kimball (Alvy Moore), whose regular greeting was often:

Well, good morning, but it's not morning. And it's not good either.

Compare this to the final words (quoted from memory) of Samuel Beckett's The Unnameable:

It was midnight, it was dark, it was raining. It was not midnight. It was not dark. It was not raining.

Green Acres was ruled by Camus' "excess of logic." For example, in a recurring bit, Oliver Douglas' clueless wife Lisa (Eva Gabor) would regularly serve her husband hot water soup: a bowl of boiled water! No sooner would Oliver (Eddie Albert) protest against the absurdity of such a dish, hired-hand Eb (Tom Lester) would come in from his chores and announce excitedly "Oh boy! Hot water soup!" and dive right in--Oliver looking on in disbelief.

Acres fished in a bathtub for six seasons (1965-1971), finally biting the dust (throwing in its pitch fork?) along with Petticoat and Hillbillies not from its snow-balling absurdity but as the result of CBS' infamous rural purge.


I have been writing (and thinking) so much lately about Lost's time-traveling Daniel Faraday, that I thought I would post an image of his namesake here. Read about the great Victorian physicist here.

Eloise Hawking (again)

Little did I know when I posted this that a young Mrs. Hawking would show up on The Island as a gun toting Other.

Clearly the Other called "Ellie" is Eloise Hawking. And Daniel Faraday thought she looked familiar.

Wash Goes Commercial

Firefly's Holden "Wash" Washburne, aka Alan Tudyk, is delightful in a Direct TV ad in which he only has one line--"That is so cool man"--as a guy lying on the floor during a bank robbery. West Wing's Dule Hill is in the commercial as well.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Quote of the Day (1/31/09)

[Artists are those] who have discovered (in a mirror surrounded with mirrors) something harder than silence but softer than falling, the third voice of "life" which believes itself and which cannot mean because it is.
--e. e. cummings, six non-lectures

Michael Steele

The Republican National Committee has just made Michael Steele its new Chair.

Judging by what I have seen of Steele on Real Time with Bill Maher, he's a despicable choice. I really could not stand him.

Wonder Woman

Trailer for a new direct-to-DVD Wonder Woman highly praised in AICN. And the voice of Steve Trevor: Nathan Fillion. I guess this will have to do in the absence of the never-meant-to-happen Whedon Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman Official Trailer

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Paul Zbyszewski, Melinda Hsu


Zbyszewski's the new guy in the Lost writers room. Co-authored, with Elizabeth Sarnoff, this week's "Jughead." Only previous experience: writing for the short-lived Daybreak.

Next week's episode, "The Little Prince" also debuts a new Lost scribe: Melinda Hsu had previously written for Vanished and Medium.

Quote of the Day (1/30/09)

It is my aim as an artist . . . to bring . . . wonder into myself, to prove beyond doubt to myself that the flesh that covers me is the flesh that covers the sun, that the blood in my lungs is the blood that goes up and down in a tree.
--Dylan Thomas

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Family Planning (Heard on "The Colbert Report")

The government already has a free program to discourage sexual activity. It's called C-Span.

Quote of the Day (1/29/09)

If one could measure the leaps that the attention took, the exertion of the eye muscles, the pendulum movements of the psyche, and all the efforts that a human being must make in order to keep himself vertical in the flux of the street, then presumably . . . the result would be a quantity compared with which the force Atlas needed to hold the world up was trivial, and one could imagine the enormous output of energy, nowadays, of even a man who was doing nothing at all.
--Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities


My head hurts. What do we now know? (We had been told that Lost S5 was going to start supplying answers, and this one had them galore.)

Charles Widmore was on The Island in 1954--as an Other, who snaps a fellow Other's neck and talks back to Richard Alpert.

So was an eponymous hydrogen bomb.

Desmond and Penny have a child--a boy named Charlie.

Daniel Faraday's research was funded by--Charles Widmore.

Daniel left Oxford in disgrace. A young woman was paralyzed for life as the result of his experiments.

Widmore definitely knows Daniel's mother (Mrs. Hawking?), knows she is a very private person, knows too where she lives (LA). (Did we not see her working with Ben at the end of "The lie"?)

Remember that Ben threatened to kill Widmore's daughter in revenge for the death of Alex? This is why Widmore warns Desmond to go back into hiding and take Penny with him.

Richard Alpert admits he takes orders too (from Jacob?).

Miles detects the presence of recently killed dead soldiers.

Richard's visit in 1956 to the very young Locke was suggested to him by the time-traveling Locke, as proof that he will one day be their leader. (Locke does not pick the compass.)

Juliet knows more about Richard than she's letting on.

Daniel has been on the island before (one of their captors says "You couldn't stay away").

Charlotte appears to have died.

Characters who had the night off: Jack, Sayid, Hurley, Kate, Sun, Aaron--the Oceanic Six.

The Passing of Kim Manners

Just learned that Kim Manners has died.

He was a busy, veteran TV producer and director (The X-Files, Supernatural, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr--three series that earned chapters in my forthcoming Essential Cult Television Reader). Detective Manners, the always "bleeping" cop in the indescribably brilliant "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" episode of X-Files--named after him.

He will be missed.

Dick Armey, Sexist Pig

On Hardball today, Dick Armey, former Republican House Majority Leader, and Salon editor Joan Walsh's debated Rush Limbaugh's unseemly power over the GOP. Responding to her disagreement with his views, Armey proclaimed how glad he was not to be married to her because then he would have to listen to her "prattle" all day.

What an SOB.

Later . . . Here's the video (9:42 in):

Eloise Hawking

In the TV Guide listing for Lost's "This Place is Death" (2 weeks hence), Mrs. Hawking's first name is listed as "Eloise."

Which means that, if Daniel Faraday is, in fact the son of the time seer who bears the name of our era's Einstein, he named his time-traveling rat after mum.

Top 50 WTF Comic Moments

Underground Online ( ranks the most mind-blowing developments in the comic book verses.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Quote of the Day (1/28/09)

To end the eternal conflict between our self and the world, to restore the peace that passeth understanding, to unite ourselves with nature so as to form one endless whole--that is the goal of all strivings.
--Friedrich Holderlin

John Updike (1932-2009)

It's hard to believe he's gone. No writer was more instrumental to my own early years as a reader. I cut my literary teeth on the short stories in Pigeon Feathers and novels like Rabbit Run. I have taught "A & P" nearly every semester since 1973. And I was supposed to teach his deeply moving poem "Dog's Death" today but ran out of time. Little did I know that he wouldn't live until I get to it on Thursday.

Dog's Death
John Updike

She must have been kicked unseen or brushed by a car.
Too young to know much, she was beginning to learn
To use the newspapers spread on the kitchen floor
And to win, wetting there, the words, "Good dog! Good dog!"

We thought her shy malaise was a shot reaction.
The autopsy disclosed a rupture in her liver.
As we teased her with play, blood was filling her skin
And her heart was learning to lie down forever.

Monday morning, as the children were noisily fed
And sent to school, she crawled beneath the youngest's bed.
We found her twisted and limp but still alive.
In the car to the vet's, on my lap, she tried

To bite my hand and died. I stroked her warm fur
And my wife called in a voice imperious with tears.
Though surrounded by love that would have upheld her,
Nevertheless she sank and, stiffening, disappeared.

Back home, we found that in the night her frame,
Drawing near to dissolution, had endured the shame
Of diarrhoea and had dragged across the floor
To a newspaper carelessly left there. Good dog.

Heard on "The Colbert Report" (1/26/09)

An executive order closes down our secret prisons. Now where will we get our secret license plates?

President Obama changes President Bush's policy on science in that he acknowledges it exists.

Gitmo was as All-American as apple pie--if someone's genitals were baked in a pie.

If Bush was so bad for science how come we went from one to three CSI's during his administration?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Quote of the Day (1/27/09)

The Dream of Descartes began with the possibility of automating geometry. It was inevitable that one would think next of the possibility of automating all thought and judgment. One then advanced to the proposition that natural language is computation, that vision and the other senses are computation, and that emotion is computation. Computo, ergo sum seems to be the ultimate expression of the Cartesian insight. It abandons humanity, replacing it by an abstract surrogate.
--Philip J. Davis and Reuben Hersh, Descartes' Dream: The World According to Mathematics

New Units of Measure

On "Says You!" this week they had a round on unusual units of measurement. Two stuck in my memory.

1. A Warhol: 15 minutes of fame. Thus, I suppose, after 5 minutes on the news, Joe the Plumber would have used up 1/3 of a Warhol. (The idiotic McCain/Palin campaign and the inanely compliant press ended up granting him like 50 Warhols!)
2. A Millihelen: Beauty sufficient to launch one ship. Since Helen of Troy (in Homer's famous characterization) had a face beautiful enough to "launch a thousand ships," 1/1000 of a Helen--a Millihelen--would be able to launch one. A woman who exhibited, say, 500 Millihelens of beauty could launch 500 ships.

Obama/"Lost" Fan Fic

I suppose it was inevitable.

Obalost? Lostama? Barost? How to slash?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

When Buffy met "Twilight"

Thanks to Beth and Rhonda.

T-shirt available here.

Quote of the Day (1/26/09)

Narcissism: Narcissus' mother did not teach him to know his face from within. Therefore he stares into the reflecting pool, lest he be lost. He stutters when he speaks. But echo kisses him and teaches him to give himself back to himself. At that moment he is transformed into Orpheus. The pool is breached, and becomes a river. The river will be time.
--Frederick Turner, "Garden Aphorisms"

Painting of the Week (1/26/09)

Munch, Death in the Sickroom

The Ballad of Jayne (Espenson, That Is)

Hooray for Jane Espenson, the Buffyverse's funniest writer (next to Joss), who will now become the showrunner for the Battlestar spin-off Caprica.

I was on a panel with her in Vegas once (at a fanfic conference), and Caprica couldn't be put in better hands than this brilliant, generous, modest soul.

Defining "Liberal"

I posted this before I had actually seen Forbes' definition of a liberal. Here it is:

Broadly, a "liberal' subscribes to some or all of the following: progressive income taxation; universal health care of some kind; opposition to the war in Iraq, and a certain queasiness about the war on terror; an instinctive preference for international diplomacy; the right to gay marriage; a woman's right to an abortion; environmentalism in some Kyoto Protocol-friendly form; and a rejection of the McCain-Palin ticket.

I have placed in bold my own subscriptions.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stephen Moffat

Still getting caught up with Season Four of Doctor Who, which I managed to miss when I was in the UK. Truth is, I was so disappointed in the first couple of episodes--"Partners in Crime," "Fires of Pompeii"--and in Catherine Tate as the new Companion that I pretty much stopped watching. But friends like Leon Hunt would later tell me that the season ended well and that a two parter written by Steven Moffat was especially memorable. Now nine eps. in, I just watched Moffat's "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead."

Moffat (pictured), who will soon take over as the Who-master (succeeding Russell Davies), might just be the Borges of television authors. His Who episodes to-date--"The Empty Child," "The Doctor Dances," "The Girl in the Fireplace," "Blink" (in addition to "Library" and "Forest") have all been mind-blowing meta-fictions. (I also liked the one season of Jekyll Moffat was able to get on air.) It will be interesting to see what direction the Doctor goes under his direction.

BTW, Catherine Tate has now won me over as well.

Quote of the Day (1/25/09)

How many objects did mankind have to produce to bring about a philosophy of materialism.
--Elias Canetti, The Human Province

Interview with Peter Berg

A TWoP interview with the man who brought Friday Night Lights from big to small screen.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Quote of the Day (1/24/09)

For [Apollonic] consciousness the elevation of the female principle and a new psychic recognition of female physicality seem structurally impossible; it is driven to repeat the same misogynist views, century after century, because of its archetypal base. There must be recurrent misogyny presented with scientific justification because the positivism of the scientific approach is informed by Apollo. Until the structure of the consciousness itself and what we consider to be "conscious" change into another archetypal vision or way of being-in-the-world, man's image of female inferiority and disbalanced coniunctio in every sphere of action will continue. Until the male Weltanschauung moves, until Maria returns to Eve and Eve to Adam; until Maria assumes with her body and within man's body a place in consciousness itself, shedding the abysmal and the only passionate; until the coniunctio affects consciousness itself; until another archetypal structure of our cosmos informs our view of things and our vision of what it is "to be conscious" with another spirit, we shall remain endlessly repeating and helplessly confirming with ever more subtle scientific observation our misogynist fantasies of the male-female vision.
--James Hillman, The Myth of Analysis

First Name Basis

I just called Chris Matthews "batty" in a post. Allow me to register another complaint about him: his constant references to President Obama as "Barack."

"Was Barack happy that the word got out?" [that he had reminded skeptical Republicans at a meeting about the financial crisis that "I won"]--he said tonight.

If that had been McCain he was speaking about, would he have said "Was John happy that . . ."?

My students refer to Wallace Stevens as "Stevens" and Nathaniel Hawthorne as "Hawthorne" but often speak of Emily Dickinson as if they were on a first name basis: "In 'I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died,' Emily says . . ." Such inappropriate familiarity is prompted largely because Dickinson was female. And Matthews' first naming may well stem from unconscious condescension-bordering-on-racism.

Yes, I am talking about you Chris!


According to Forbes Magazine, the 25 most liberal people in the media. (I read about it in Salon.)

1. Paul Krugman
2. Arianna Huffington
3. Fred Hiatt
4. Thomas Friedman
5. Jon Stewart
6. Oprah Winfrey
7. Rachel Maddow
8. Josh Marshall
9. David Shipley
10. Markos Moulitsas Zuniga
11. Fareed Zakaria
12. Chris Matthews
13. Bill Moyers
14. Christopher Hitchens
15. Maureen Dowd
16. Matt Yglesias
17. Hendrick Hertzberg
18. Glenn Greenwald
19. Andrew Sullivan
20. Gerald Seib
21. Jim Fallows
22. Ezra Klein
23. Kevin Drum
24. Kurt Andersen
25. Michael Pollan

This is, of course, a preposterous list. Hitchens--ardent backer of the war in Iraq--a liberal? Because, I suppose, he is as well a champion of atheism and a critic of Mother Theresa. Author of The Conservative Soul Andrew Sullivan a liberal? Because he supported Obama and thought Sarah Palin was a lying liar and idiot? Kurt Anderson, host of NPR's Studio 360, a liberal? Because he champions all forms of artistic expression? Thomas Friedman, another backer of the Iraq War while being castigated as an idiot by Matt Taibi? Batty Chris Matthews a liberal because MSNBC has liberal guests. Michael Pollan a liberal because he a discerning critic of the food industry? Jon Stewart a liberal because he is non-discriminatory iconoclast? Jim Fallows and Fareed Zakaria, both cautious, brilliant, and articulate pundits/commentator, liberal? As Colbert would say,
Reality does have a well known liberal bias.

Granted, a few true liberals--Glen Greenwald, Rachel Maddow, Markos Moulitsas, Bill Moyers--made the list, but for the most part it's utterly without merit.

Proud of Nashville

Nashville votes down an idiotic and racist "English Only" ordinance.

Twenty Two Perfect TV Opening Credit Sequences

The Onion AV Club picks them--complete with videos.

Also Amy Kane assesses OCS's as a possible lost art.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quote of the Day (1/23/09)

As I look back on the part of the mystery which is my own life, my own fable, what I am most aware of is that we receive more than we can ever give; we receive it from the past, on which we draw with every breath, but also and this is a point of faith from the source of the mystery itself, by the means which religious people call Grace.
--Edwin Muir, The Story and the Fable

Hot Pockets and Contemporary Television

When, in last night's Lost ("The Lie," 5.2), a startled Hurley hurls a Hot Pocket at Ben, I was reminded of an earlier appearance of the snack food in Buffy the Vampire Slayer ("Empty Places," 7.19):

ANDREW: Um, Mr. Giles, Faith stole the last meatball-and-mozzarella-flavored hot pocket out of the freezer even though I had called dibs on it. . . . Yup. See, the post-it's still here: "Andrew's. Please do not eat." But the box is empty now. . . . See, it's not the hot pocket itself? even though it did have that new-and-improved thicker tomato sauce? it's just the fundamental lack of respect.
GILES: (to Andrew) Shut up. Pay attention. (holds the magnifying glass over the photo) Dawn, what do you see?

Heard on "Lost"

Dude, maybe if you ate more comfort food you wouldn't have to go around killing people.
--French-fry munching Hurley to fellow castaway-turned-assassin Sayid

Colbert on Poetry

Colbert interviews inauguration poet Elizabeth Alexander (and asks some really stupid, and oddly educational, questions about poetry).

Watch Alexander read her poem:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Lost" Comes Out of the Science Fiction Closet

In an essay published in J. P. Telotte's Essential Science Fiction Television Reader, I argued that at the time of writing (I delivered "The Island's Greatest Mystery" in January of 2007, two full years ago, and before "Flashes Before Your Eyes" had even aired) deeming Lost as SF was premature.

Episodes like "Flashes Before Your Eyes" and "The Constant" and Ben's "Frozen Donkey Wheel" moving of the island in the S4 finale established Darlton's SF intentions.

But last night's S5 debut episodes sealed the deal definitively. A time-hopping island, as unstuck in time as Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five? The time travel expert Mrs. Hawking working in cohoots with Ben? OMG.

In Unlocking Lost, Lynnette Porter and I showed that ABC was very resistant in Season One to Lost going in SF directions, a fact confirmed by Darlton's recent revelation in EW interviews with Jeff Jensen that they met strong resistance to Richard Malkin insistence that Claire be on Oceanic 815 as too "out there." Last night was about as out there as narrative can get.

Screenwriter (and original script doctor) Ben Hecht once observed:

I discovered early in my movie work that a movie is never any better than the stupidest man connected with it. There are times when this distinction may be given to the writer or director. Most often it belongs to the producer.

In television work, the stupidest man is often the network, but in the case of Lost, idiotic ABC didn't win; team Darlton did. The "exotic matter[s]" Lost is now exploring are the manifestation of that victory.

Quote of the Day (1/22/09)

In all affairs, when they are past, however they have turned out, I have little regret. For this idea takes away the pain: that they were bound to happen thus, and now they are in the great stream of the universe and in the chain of Stoical causes. Your fancy, by wish or imagination, cannot change a single point without overturning the whole order of things, and the past and the future.

"The Shield" Finale

No doubt about it. This was one of the great final episodes (ironically entitled "Family Meeting").

Shane's suicide (and murder and laying out of his wife and son), Ronnie going down with only a mild apology from Vic, Claudette's revelation to Dutch that she is dying, Vic's family witness-protected--all wonderful (aka appalling/brilliant/unexpected). But bureaucratizing Vic (who had made a deal with ICE to make him unprosecutable for all his innumerable crimes)--damning him to a suit and a cubicle and the endless writing of meaningless reports: a pure stroke of genius.

Several reviewers praised The Shield finale for avoiding the indeciperhableness of the final episode of The Sopranos. And yet . . . "Family Meetings'" final moment--Vic pulling a gun out of his dark desk drawer and heading off puprosely screen right--was entirely enigmatic: is Mackey going to kill himself, slaughter those who have wronged him (Aceveda, Wyms, Corrine, Olivia, among others), become a vigilante? We simply do not know Vic's future, any more than we know if Tony, Carmela, and AJ will leave Holsten's dead or alive, nor should we. Endings need not cross every "T" or dot every "I."

Putting Away Childish Things

The history of Western man has been a progressive peeling back of the psyche, as if the earliest agriculture may have addressed itself to extenuation of adolescent concerns while the most modern era seeks to evoke in society at large some of the fixations of early natality rationalized, symbolized, and disguised as need be. The individual growth curve, as described by Bruno Bettelheim, Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, and others, is a biological heritage of the deep past. It is everyman's tree of life, now pruned by civic gardeners as the outer branches and twigs become incompatible with the landscaped order. The reader may extend that metaphor as he wishes, but I shall move to an animal image to suggest that the only society more frightful than one run by children, as in Golding's Lord of the Flies, might be one run by childish adults.
--Paul Shepard (pictured), Nature and Madness (emphasis mine)

And yesterday, the day the childish Bush administration's hold on the American psyche came to an end, Obama asked for an end to our Peter Panism:

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

The Obama Inaugural Address

Watch CBS Videos Online

And Jason Jones (on The Daily Show) deflects Jon Stewart's acute comparison (including side-by-side video) between Obama's rhetoric and W's.

Money quote:

When Obama says it, I don't think he means it, and that gives me hope.--Jason Jones

The Time Machine on My Wall

Matthew Weiner has called the exemplary Mad Men a time machine.

Now I can hang the time machine (well, the Mad Men calendar) on my wall.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Quote of the Day (1/21/09)

Philosophy in the age of completed metaphysics is anthropology.
--Martin Heidegger, The End of Philosophy

The Switch

Maureen Dowd writes:

The exiting and entering presidents are opposite poles — one the parody of a monosyllabic Western gunslinger who disdains nuance, and one a complex, polysyllabic professor sort who will make a decision only after he has held it up to the light and examined it from all sides.

Sacrifice, Torture

A marvelous Colbert "Word" on "Sacrifice."

The money line (coming after a discussion of torture's "bad press," complete with expert testimony from Jack Bauer!):

To those of you who say the President never asked us to sacrifice anything in a time of war, I say you are just not paying attention. For clearly he has asked us to sacrifice the difference between right and wrong.

The Best Passage from Obama's Inaugural Address

We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.

Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more. Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint. We are the keepers of this legacy.

Defending the Constitution

Andrew Sullivan sums it up, on this day of paradigm shifts:

The Oath
A reminder of what so many forgot these past eight years: the executive branch's first duty is to protect and defend the Constitution, not the territory, of the U.S. On that score, Bush and Cheney did not keep us safe. They did to the Constitution what Osama bin Laden could never have done.

"Lost's" Top 50 OMGWTF Moments

Courtesy of Ack, via

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bush v English Language

Andy Borowitz reports on W's last act as President: abolishing his greatest enemy. I especially liked Sarah Palin's comment:

Being that the English language can and has been used in confusing and also too in harming ordinary Americans, knowing that it no longer can or will be used in doing that is something positive that this is doing also.

Quote of the Day (1/20/09)

In modern writings the idea seems to arise from the movements of a man walking straight ahead. In the writings of the ancients on the other hand it seems to arise from that of a bird hovering and advancing in circles.

"A Farewell Salute"

Tom Tomorrow sends them off (from Salon)

"BSG" Returns

It's now official: Battlestar Galactica is the darkest show in the history of television. Dualla's suicide clinched the deal.

TWoP's Jacob, who gave "Sometimes a Great Notion" another A+, makes a prediction for next week:

Stay tuned for next week when Hera gets started mainlining heroin and FOX News; Boomer spends six hours at the DMV; and Lee, Kara, the rest of the Cylons, and the cast of the entire Stargate franchise commit cascading ritual suicide in a Broadway salute to Busby Berkeley.

On Martin Luther King Day (and on the Eve of Obama's Inauguration)

From Some Ecards:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Quote of the Day (1/19/09)

Perhaps an angel looks like everything
We have forgotten, I mean forgotten
Things that don't seem familiar when
We meet them again, lost beyond telling,
Which were ours once.
--John Ashbery, "Self-Portrait in a Complex Mirror"

Painting of the Week (1/19/09)

Rousseau, Woman Walking in an Exotic Forrest

Socratic Torture

Found this in Lichtenberg's aphorisms:

The Socratic method intensified --I mean torture.

Who knew the Bush administration was so indebted to the wisest man in Athens?

Weiner Signs

This is welcome news indeed.

Don Draper may not have a contract ("Meditations in an Emergency"), but Mad Men's genius now does--for two more seasons.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Quote of the Day (1/18/09)

At such moments [when a world view disintegrates] men may believe that they have lost something beyond price, for a grand vision has faded into despair and self-assurance given place to the humiliation of man's inability to understand himself. . . . Change cannot come until neither loyalty to the old nor fear of the new can longer delay it. Such a transformation is all the more difficult because it seems to require the greater to be sacrificed for the less. Each real advance is paid for by aiming at less in order to achieve more. The crucial step cannot be taken until men are ready to choose the less which can be realized in place of the more which had remained a dream.
--Lancelot Law Whyte


I like this word (proposed by the Urban Dictionary).

FNL: Best and Worst

TWoP offers a good slide show of Friday Night Lights' of this Buffy Award winner's pluses and minuses.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Quote of the Day (1/17/09)

It is for a later period to discover the closer unifying laws that are already present in the works themselves. When this true conception of art is achieved, then there will no longer be any possible distinction between science and inspired creation. The further one presses forward, the greater becomes the identity of everything, and finally we have the impression of being faced by a work not of man but of nature.
--Anton Webern


Thomas Rogers has updated his first-rate "Everything You Wanted to Know About Battlestar Galactica" on Salon.

Andrew Wyeth

I have already written here about the "already dead."

The news today that the American painter Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) has died stands as a perfect demonstration. I was certain Wyeth was long dead.

You may have heard of the Abe Vigoda widget you can place on your desktop to keep up to speed--in real time--about the actor's life or death state. I need something like this--but for everybody.

Forrest Whitaker

Immersed in Season Five of The Shield. Is there an actor better able to switch between menace and sweetness as easily as Forrest Whitaker?

Glenn Close in Season 4 and Whitaker in 5--two superb one season only guest starring performances/roles.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Andrew Sullivan quotes this study today:

'High caffeine users' - those who consumed more than the equivalent of seven cups of instant coffee a day - were three times more likely to have heard a person's voice when there was no one there compared with 'low caffeine users' who consumed less than the equivalent of one cup of instant coffee a day.

Compare this to the following (from Georg Lichtenberg (1742-1799):

Sometimes, when I had drunk a great deal of coffee and was accordingly startled by everything that happened, I could observe with great precision that I started up in fright before I heard the crash. It follows that we hear with other instruments, as it were, than our ears.

Quote of the Day (1/16/09)

Folly enters when we try to "reduce" metaphysical terms and matters to mechanical ones: worlds to systems, particulars to categories, impressions to analyses, and realities to abstractions. This is the madness of the last three centuries, the madness which so many of us—as individuals—go through, and by which all of us are tempted. It is this Newtonian-Lockean-Cartesian view—variously paraphrased in medicine, biology, politics, industry, etc.—which reduces men to machines, automata, puppets, dolls, blank tablets, formulae, ciphers, systems, and reflexes. It is this, in particular, which has rendered so much of our recent and current medical literature unfruitful, unreadable, inhuman, and unreal.
--Oliver Sacks, Awakenings

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Colbert Gets Cosmic

Stephen calls out the Andromeda Galaxy on the behalf of "America's Galaxy."

"Dreams from MY Father"

The Colbert Report's "entrepeneur, pundit, and black republican" PK Winsome (Tim Meadows) reveals the latest in Obama tie-ins, his own strikingly familiar autobiography.

Quote of the Day (1/15/09)

Why is the imaginal character of the body not more obvious? Why does the body encourage the literalization of its organs and functions? The answer comes from consideration of the dynamism inherent in bodily life. The body remains material. The metamorphoses of meaning become sedimented, encrusted in the flesh. In its ensoulment the matter of the body is metaphorical, and metaphor becomes matter. In taking on flesh, soul takes on the heaviness, dullness, stupidity, inertia, and concupiscence of the body. Body solidifies the smokiness of soul and because we can grasp body, we forget that it is image. When we discipline this amnesia, we call it physiology and anatomy.
--Robert Kugelmann, Windows of the Soul

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Quote of the Day (1/14/09)

A drunken man who falls out of a cart, though he may suffer, does not die. His bones are the same as other people's; but he meets the accident in a different way. His spirit is in a condition of security. He is not conscious of riding in the cart; neither is he conscious of falling out of it. Ideas of life, death, fear, etc. cannot penetrate his breast; and so he does not suffer from contact with objective existences. And if such security can be got from wine, how much more is to be got from Spontaneity.

Country Wisdom

On Prairie Home Companion this past weekend, Roy Blount spoke of honky tonk philosophy. He quoted a country song:

You never told me you weren't speaking to me.

Amd he went on to offer philosophical interpretations of other songs and even praised the wisdom of Hee-Haw.

He didn't refer to one of of my favorite Hee-Hawisms (from the newscaster):

In the news tonight, the same things happened that happened last night. They just happened to different people.

The Last of "Break"

Entertainment Weekly reports that Prison Break has gotten the ax, with Season Four not resuming until April and no decision yet whether the remaining in-the-canners will even air.

The "Company" has won: Michael, Lincoln, and company will, I fear, come to a bad end.

"Billy" and "Nanook"

I have finally laid eyes on two entries I wrote for The Encyclopedia of Native American Literature, edited by Jennifer McClinton-Temple and Alan Velie (Facts on File, 2007).

I wrote the pieces on the films Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, 1922) (p. 254) and Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin, 1971) (p. 54).

Stacey A and David L on Dr. H

Critical Studies in Television has just posted short pieces by the ever-brilliant Stacey Abbott and occasionally insightful David Lavery on Dr. Horrible. Another one from the amazing Rhonda Wilcox will follow next month.

"Desperate Creativity"

Scott Brazil, The Shield's go-to director, uses this useful term to describe the end-result of receiving a script he is about to helm late. (Remember that, typically, hour dramas are the products of eight (8!) day shoots.

I have been saying for years that the making of television is governed by a principle laid down by the Persian poet Rumi (1207-1273):

New organs of perception come into being as a result of necessity. Therefore, increase your necessity so that you may increase your perception.
--Jaladdin Rumi

"Breaking 315"

Another Shield DVD recommendation.

On Disc Four of the Season Three set, "Breaking 315" offers a fascinating behind the scenes look at the breaking of "On Tilt." Everyone from the writers to the director (Scott Brazil) talks about their roles, step by step in making the season finale.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Heard on "The Colbert Report"

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on you again. I am shameless.
--Stephen Colbert

Quote of the Day (1/13/09)

The record of civilization is over, and like a record at its end, it keeps going on with the noise of a needle stuck in its ruts: the revolution of the workers, the protest of the young, the new creations of the avant-garde, the rise of new forms of sexual liberation, the appearance of new religions. This side of history is over, and on the other side is myth.
William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

Stevens Diploma

I quoted Wallace Stevens in an earlier entry today, and a comment from "Variations on a Theme" about wanting to take a course on him reminded me of the diploma students in my WS seminars received. (Go here to see another fanciful diploma.)

Whedon in "Written By"

An excellent new piece by Lisa Rosen (“New Media Guru,” January 2009) on Joss Whedon in the new issue of Written By. A discerning overview of Whedon's career, its real focus is Dr. Horrible and Whedon's possible future career as the web's Roger Corman.


Just saw an ad for this on TV: Knowledge Generation Bureau.

Could be useful.

Piagetian Poodles

My trip to the mailbox to put a DVD out for return (the utterly unmemorable Leatherheads), resulted in the usual liminal disturbance with our poodles, Charley (pictured) and Elmo, as they barked and barked to mark the passing of a threshold. Once I was back inside, however, they continued to bark from their windowseat perch in Joyce's study--remarking the exterior me who was now, of course, now the interior me.

Piaget (pictured) tells a story about his much-observed daughter (he was faulted by some for studying his own children), who, as I recall, had waived to his daughter in the garden from an upstairs window and then, upon joining her outside moments later, found her still waiving at "upstairs papa" even when her one and only father stood before her.

For our horribly immature poodles (though both now 70+ in dog years) were there (are there) not multiple me's?

Damien Pettigrew

Several years ago I received the e-mail below from the documentary filmmaker and writer Damien Pettigrew (I thought the e-mail was lost, but I just found a print out).

Given that it links something I wrote to two of my major intellectual influences, it meant a lot to me.


Over the years, I have been an inveterate marker-upper of my reading material. Using a pen and not a highlighter (I gave these up as an undergrad), I have underscored passages I thought deserved future attention and put "X's" in the margin to call attention to especially important ones. The more "X's," the more significant (more than three indicated mind-blowing).

My all time record is 10x, given to two, which follow:

And then he began to see the unbelievable magnitude of what man, when he gained the power to withstand and rule the world in terms of dialectic truths had lost. He had built empires of scientific capability to manipulate the phenomena of nature into
enormous manifestations of his own dreams of power and wealth —but for this he had exchanged an empire of equal magnitude: an understanding of what it is to be a part of the world and not an enemy of it.
--Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (377-78)

And round and round, the merely going round,
Until merely going round is a final good,
The way wine comes at a table in a wood.

And we enjoy like men, the way a leaf
Above the table spins its constant spin,
So that we look at it with pleasure, look

At it spinning its eccentric measure. Perhaps
The man-hero is not the exceptional monster,
But he that of repetition is most master.
--Wallace Stevens, "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction" (Collected Poems, 405-406)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Painting of the Week (1/12/09)

Reginald Marsh, Why Not Take the "L"

Quote of the Day (1/12/09)

The telephone extended intimate listening across wide distances. As it is basically unnatural to be intimate at a distance, it has taken some time for humans to accustom themselves to the idea. Today North Americans raise their voices only on transcontinental or trans oceanic calls; Europeans, however, still raise their voices to talk to the next town, and Asians shout at the telephone when talking to someone in the next street.

The capacity of the telephone to interrupt thought is more important, for it has undoubtedly contributed a good share to the abbreviation of written prose and the choppy speech of modern times. For instance, when Schopenhauer writes at the beginning of The World as Will and Idea that he wishes us to consider the entire book as one thought, we realize that he is about to make severe demands on himself and his readers. The real depreciation of concentration began after the advent of the telephone. Had Schopenhauer written his book in my office, he would have completed the first sentence and the telephone would have rung. Two thoughts.
--R. Murray Schafer, The Tuning of the World

"24" Season 7

Once more, Jack Bauer is about to have a terrible day, but this time in Washington, DC. LA is no doubt glad to get rid of him and his karma.

It will be interesting to see how it fares under new management (with Joel Surnow gone) and without CTU as its locus (what replacement DC building will now become an easy mark for breaking and entering by any and all terrorists?).

Maybe, just maybe, the shake-ups will enable the series to remedy all the many things that ailed Season Six. If they don't, it will finally leap a certain aquatic predator once and for all.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Quote of the Day (1/11/09)

There is infinite hope, but not for us.
--Franz Kafka

Cheney, Bush, Genre

Politico reports this week:

Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday that his image has gotten a bad rap in the press and that he is in fact “a warm, lovable sort.”

Cheney conceded in an interview with CBS radio that he sometimes expresses himself “rather forcefully toward some of my compatriots, like Pat Leahy from Vermont” but dismissed as a caricature the idea that he is a “Darth Vader-type personality.”

“I think all of that’s been pretty dramatically overdone,” the vice president said. “I’m actually a warm, lovable sort.”

Cheney also insisted that his influence within the Bush administration was overstated throughout the past eight years. “The notion that somehow I was pulling strings or making presidential-level decisions. I was not,” he said.

“There was never any question about who was in charge. It was George Bush. And that’s the way we operated. This whole notion that somehow I exceeded my authority here, was usurping his authority, is simply not true. It’s an urban legend, never happened."

"Urban Legend." Hmm. What is it with this administration's use of genre references?

In an essay I published last year--"The Island's Greatest Mystery: Is Lost Science Fiction" (in Jay Telotte's Essential Science Fiction Television Reader)--I had already noted an odd George Bush evocation of "science fiction":

When George W. Bush answered the suggestion, during the 2000 Republican primary season, that he had avoided military duty during the Vietnam War due to his father’s influence, he replied to a reporter’s question that the charge was “science fiction,” meaning that it was not just false, but really, really false.

Cheney's use of "urban legend" shows about as much grasp of the term as "W's" SFing. Here's how defines it:

a modern story of obscure origin and with little or no supporting evidence that spreads spontaneously in varying forms and often has elements of humor, moralizing, or horror

We know the origins of Cheney as Darth Vader; the evidence of his evil is substantial; there is nothing funny about his Vice-Presidency--other than shooting an old man in the face.

Still, as Steve Benen observes, "the standards for a 'warm, lovable sort' are inherently subjective. I find Cheney's slow, mechanical breathing kind of creepy, and his ability to crush tracheas with his mind unsettling, but that's me."

Satyam Khanna makes the case for his abuses of power. Not folklore, not funny.

We may not really know Dick (to borrow The Daily Show's joke), but what we do know about him certainly suggests that he's no choking doberman, or vanishing hitchhiker, or alligator in the sewer.

"The Shield" Directors' Roundtable

On Disc Four of The Shield Season Two DVD set is a superb discussion between Shawn Ryan (creator of the series), Paris Barclay, Peter Horton, and Scott Brazil.

There is so little out there on directing for television. This is a godsend for those of us in television studies.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Quote of the Day (1/10/09)

Were an Asiatic to ask me for a definition of Europe. I should be forced to answer him: it is that part of the world which is haunted by the incredible delusion that man was created out of nothing, and that his present birth is his first entrance into life.
--Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena


Todd Rundgren in the news again of late. Not long ago, only thirty years, he was one of my seers, my gurus.

My record player was almost certain to be spinning either Todd (Wizard/True Star), or Karlheinz (photo on the right) Stockhausen (Ylem, Kurzwellen), or the Beatles.

White of Me

Now that I am an on-the-record lover of Arrested Development, my wife reminds me that my new obsession is ethnic to the core.

Mr. Cranky

I haven't visited the easily disappointed one's site in some time. I see that the cranky one has expanded his categories for ranking the awfulness of movies. "So godawful that it ruptured the very fabric of space and time with the sheer overpowering force of its mediocrity"--didn't this used to be the lowest he would go?

"God bless the USA"

James Fallows explains why "a little chunk is hacked away from the national brain each time a president [including Obama] gets out of a speech not with a thought or original phrase but with this mindless pablum."

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Whedon, "Dollhouse," Ratings Expectations

Whedon talks (with his customary hilarious candor) to Sci-Fi Wire about FOX's expectation for Dollhouse on Friday night's ratings graveyard (lower than they would have been on Monday), among other things.

Other subjects covered include D-house's new Friday partner (he was never happy with the 24 pairing and is a big fan of T:SCC), negative expectations for his new series, Dollhouse birth pangs.

Whedon mentions that the last two episodes of the 13 being shot are being written by Tim Minear and Jane Espenson.

24 SF?

A partly tongue-in-cheek argument for why 24 is science fiction.

Joe Klein on Torture

A close-to-definitive indictment of Bush and torture (from Time Magazine).

Go Gators

Proud to be a Gator this morning.

Two out of the last three--NCAA National Champions in both football and basketball. Not bad at all. Chomp chomp.

Quote of the Day (1/9/09)

For me the only real artist is the visionary because he bears witness to his own reality. A visionary—Van Gogh, for instance—is a profound realist. That wheat field with the black sun is his; only he saw it. There can't be greater realism.
--Federico Fellini

Howie Mandel, Paranoia, Teaching

Early in his career, back when he was an edgy, meta-comedian and not a bald talk-show host, Howie Mandel was known for a shtick where he made his stand-up audiences laugh and then, in full-blown po-mo style, pretended to be paranoically nonplussed by their guffawed response, entreating them plaintively "What? What?" His role was to make these people laugh, but then he was disconcerted that the audience was laughing at him. Funny.

I have already written in this blog about about my early pedagogical paranoia and how John Reinhardt broke me of it. There was something Howie Mandelish about, now that I think about it. I wanted my students to be enthralled by me (still do), but when they were, when they couldn't take their eyes off of me, it was unnerving.


This wonderful On Point hour devoted to Samuel Johnson (with new biographer Jeffrey Meyers) made me want to read Sam anew.

Here's a great web version of Johnson's dictionary.

Twain, "Daily Show," Congress

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.

In The Gilded Age, it was Mark Twain (pictured) who lead the nation, as the above quotes demonstrate, in excoriating Congress. Now it's The Daily Show which best reminds the nation and the world of the redundant "idiocy" of our elected representatives.

On Tuesday, Jon Stewart & Co. gave us this masterful skewering of the Senate as it considers whether or not to seat Blago's appointment to fill Obama's seat.

Quote of the Day (1/8/10) (Herman Melville Week)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Quote of the Day (1/8/09)

Pure faith indeed you know not what you ask!
Naked belief in God the omnipotent,
Omniscient, Omnipresent, sears too much
The sense of conscious creatures to be borne.
It were the seeing him, no flesh shall stare.
Some think, Creation's meant to show him faith:
I say, it's meant to hide him all it can,
And that's what all the blessed evil's for.
It's use in Time is to environ us,
Our breath, our drop of dew, with shield enough
Against that sight till we can bear its stress.
Under a vertical sun, the exposed brain
And lidless eye and disimprisoned heart
Less certainly would wither up at once
Than mind, confronted with the truth of him.
But time and earth case-harden us to live.
--Robert Browning, "Bishop Bloughram's Apology"